Dave Manning heads to Mandello at the southern edge of the Italian Alps on a V85 TT to visit the annual Moto Guzzi Open House event... Words and Images: Dave Manning
Nestled in the hills at the southern edge of the Italian Alps, the Moto Guzzi factory is a shining example of a traditional engineering factory – a brick building built in the middle of a thriving town.Yet there is something special about the small factory…
For not only has it been operational for almost 99 years, it has been run under the same company since its inception, and has become as much a part of the town as Mandello is a part of Moto Guzzi. There are families who have worked in the factory for five generations, and the love, respect and honour that are shown to the brand by locals is second to none.
And this is especially clear during the Moto Guzzi Open House weekend held by the factory once every year, shortly after the yearly holiday break when the factory completely shuts down for a few weeks in August.
While any Guzzi fan would not hesitate to make the trip to the factory, the Open House weekend is a fascinating insight into the brand, and any bike would suffice for the trip, although I naturally grabbed the opportunity of a weekend in Italy with my transport being an example of Moto Guzzi’s latest offspring, the adventure bike styled V85 TT.
Much like my previous trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the bigger Beemer adventure bike, the trip to Mandello was a two-day job, again seeing some of the best parts of Europe on the way. A forty minute train trip beneath the English Channel followed by blast along some French péage (toll motorways) made quick work of the longest distances and got us into Switzerland and passing Montreux, with its associated Deep Purple ear worms…
An overnight stay in the dual ski towns of Crans-Montana preceded a ride over the Simplon Pass, in a grey drizzle that was just about managing to wash away the previous night’s snow fall. It meant we missed many of the spectacular views that all of the Alpine passes are known for, although the subsequent descent into Italy proved good fun, even if damp underfoot. We headed directly into Mandello, for a quick look around and some obligatory pics outside the factory gate, before heading northwards up the scenic coast of Lake Como, and thence on to our hotel just along the coast in the impeccable and inviting town of Lecco.
The following day saw the factory opening to the public, and a variety of tours and talks to join, both in Italian and (fortunately for me) English too. The entire factory is open, although there is no actual fabrication in the original factory any more, as it’s purely used for assembly, although the engines are built from their constituent parts in Mandello, and various parts (such as the steel cylinder sleeves) are made locally.
Interestingly, most of the production at that time was being devoted to the V85 TT, which is proving to be in great demand, and actually outstripping supply! This has to be good news for such an historic brand. And there’s little doubt of the brand’s popularity with both the locals and Italian motorcyclists in general, shown not only by the crowds of people flocking through the factory’s iconic red gates, but also by the astounding number of Moto Guzzi models parked, and riding around, the beautiful lakeside town.
And while there were a considerable number of visitors on new models from the Guzzi factory, they were heavily outnumbered by classic twins and singles – yet more proof of the Italians’ pride in the Mandello brand. While the factory museum held some true rarities, the town’s streets seemed to hold just as many, with rare singles and two stroke singles and twins that I have never heard of before, let alone seen being ridden around by young and old, male and female. If you’ve never considered riding an older bike before, a day here will change your mind!
Naturally, not all the people riding to Mandello were spending all of their time in the factory. I would go as far as to suggest that a large number don’t even bother walking through those red gates, but spend their time mooching around the back streets, sitting outside cafeterias and inside cool and shady bars, or getting inspiration from the many modified Guzzis in ‘Custom Street’.
Much like the Isle of Man during TT week, the locals get involved too. With shop windows featuring bikes and parts (yes, even a lingerie store), bars with Moto Guzzi banners – we were served beer by a young boy who could barely be old enough to attend school – it’s a very welcoming place to be.
Sadly, a damp Sunday morning saw us heading for home. With the weather reports telling us of snow in the Alpine passes, we headed for the Gottard Tunnel into Switzerland. While we missed the glory of travelling over the top, the Gottard has the advantage of not just 10.5 miles out of the rain (yes, the tunnel is that long!), but of also being an amazing 25° Centigrade warmer!
18 hours and six minutes later, with 880 miles covered, I was home. What a trip!
MOTO GUZZI OPEN HOUSE
Just a few days after the factory return from their annual break in August, Moto Guzzi open their gates to the general public. The museum, which is situated within the factory itself, has been open to the public for a long time, although it has been recently re-worked and expanded, but the Open House weekend is far more than just the rather impressive museum.
Although the Mandello facility is now just an assembly plant, the Guzzi factory have realised that their bikes have to carry on being built in the factory as, given that it’s been in the location since 1921, most Guzzi owners want to have the ‘Made in Mandello’ badge on their bikes. As it’s been in the same location for so long, many families in the town have long-term connections with the company, and there are several fifth generation families working in the plant!
Given the traditional Italian nature of Mandello, with its narrow twisting streets and high stucco walls, it’s something of an eye opener to discover that all the materials required to build bikes are delivered by truck, and the completed machines also leave by truck, although there is a railway line running very close to the factory gate.
For this weekend the assembly plan and engine assembly areas are both open for the public to have a look around, with guided tours and talks taking place (both in Italian and English), which also incorporate the world-famous wind tunnel. Whilst it has now been superseded by advanced computer programmes, the wind tunnel had proved essential to the design and development of bodywork and race fairings for the factory, and it is said that inhabitants of the town would know when wind tunnel testing was taking pace, as there’d be a blackout as the tunnel took over the town’s electricity supply!
Rather than just have official ‘guides’ drafted in for two days, there are many of the Moto Guzzi top brass in attendance too. In fact, we were shown around the engine assembly area by Nello Mariotti, the plant manager and senior vice president for the entire site! Besides being an incredibly important person, and in a position that you may have thought would be above talking to the general public, he was an exceedingly interesting gentleman, who introduced himself by saying “Apologies for my English, but it is better than your Italian!” So, important and with a sense of humour!
While manufacture of all of the component parts is now outsourced (although some are produced very locally, such as the barrel sleeves which are actually made elsewhere in Mandello), all assembly is inside the historic factory, including the engines, from the bare crankcases up.
The engines are assembled, tested for leaks using air pressure in the barrels, and then ‘pre-run’, with zero fuel, just using an electric motor to spin the engine over via the output shaft, firstly running it at tickover level for several minutes, before raising the revolutions to the maximum torque level, and then maximum horsepower (electronically detected by measuring the energy required by the electric motor to spin the engine over). If everything meets the required parameters, then the engine is good to be fitted into a complete machine. A fascinating insight into how a modern motorcycle is built.
Additionally, there were also ride-outs on test machinery, music from bands playing in the factory grounds (as well as throughout the town), food vendors, official factory merchandise and lots more. And those of us who were lucky enough to have blagged press passes even got lunch in the factory canteen. And, being in Italy, you’ll not be surprised to hear that it was top notch nosh!
While it would have been a treat to ride any Moto Guzzi from my home in northern England to the factory in northern Italy, I was lucky enough to be astride what is probably Guzzi’s ideal machine for the trip – the recently introduced V85 TT.
Styled as an adventure bike, its natural competition isn’t really the all-singing, all-dancing monsters like the BMW R 1200 GS, or the Triumph Tiger 1200 triple, but the smaller capacity machines such as the Yamaha Tracer or BMW F 850 GS parallel twin, yet it has much more character than anything built in Japan or Germany.
But don’t confuse ‘character’ with flaws or incompetence, for the TT was impeccable in every way, with the only (very minor) niggle being the fact that it doesn’t come with heated grips, and that was only really an issue when climbing over the Alps. You might expect an 850cc shaft drive bike to have some gear selection issues, yet first gear slips into place as smooth as a hot knife into butter, although further gear changes are a little clunkier, but nothing like as agricultural as older Guzzis or American vee twins.
Whilst outright power isn’t its aim, the air-cooled transverse V-Twin (with its single, centrally-mounted throttle body) is still impressively punchy, with top gear urge bringing the orange part of the shift light on at just over 7,000rpm (and 170kph) then turning red at 195kph, so it’s not exactly hanging around, and the roar from the airbox from 5,000rpm is truly addictive, and a little out of sorts for a mile-munching adventure bike.
Yet mile-munching is what the TT is good at. Very good. The seat is ultra comfortable, and I had no fidgeting at all over the four days across middle Europe. The pillion pegs can be used by the rider, and the pillion and rider pegs are actually close enough together to be able to place my size 9 heels on the pillion pegs and the toes on the rider pegs, giving another foot position option. Although you wouldn’t have that with a pillion on board, clearly.
The adjustable screen gave some buffeting at the highest setting, from about 50mph, although it was something that I actually got used to after a couple of hundred miles, and it would naturally be different for differing rider statures.
The bike I had was fitted with the optional top box, with its chunky and substantial lock and clasp, and with the tubular rear subframe it is really easy to strap any additional luggage aboard, which is something that a lot of other manufacturers could pay attention to.
Aside from the bright primary colours on the machine I was riding (which provokes reactions of either deep joy or abject horror), the TT is available in an understated grey, and a traditionally Italian red.
Moto Guzzi Open House Gallery